If you run, then you'll know all about Parkrun, an international phenomenon that’s enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. The free 5km run is held on a Saturday morning in parks in 1,400 locations in five continents – including around 40 runs in Wales.
Our most popular is in Cardiff’s Bute Park, where 800 runners regularly trot around the Welsh capital’s great green heart. Some are pushing prams. Others are pushing for PBs. Out in the front, Cardiff-based athlete Charlotte Arter is breaking a world record (more of which later). She’s a British 10,000m champion, cross-country expert, and holds the Welsh half-marathon record. As one of Britain’s most versatile runners, she’s happy to be living in a country that’s a perfect training ground.
'You’ve got every terrain to run in. It’s pretty awesome,' says Charlotte. 'You’ve got the coastline of the Wales Coast Path, the mountains in Bannau Brycheiniog (the Brecon Beacons) and Eryri (Snowdonia). You’ve got absolutely every running possibility out there.'
In her own home patch around Cardiff, she’s still discovering new places to train. 'When I’m doing my easy runs I like going off and exploring new places. I’ll do a mixture: some on road, some on trail. I like to get a bit of variety into my training,' says Charlotte.
'The Taff Trail and Bute Park is my go-to, because it’s on my doorstep. It’s really good because you can just run round the park, go off onto the grass if you want to, and the Taff Trail goes on for miles. I’ve been going up to Pontypridd once a week to get more undulation on the forest trails above Barry Sidings. There’s a trail where you can climb over a thousand feet of elevation.
'If you head further west, Margam Park is really nice, too. It’s got different kinds of terrain, and you can get up high for some great views. I’ve also done a great run over the headland at Rhossili, and on the Wales Coast Path in Pembrokeshire.'
And, of course, there’s the local Parkrun. Even pro athletes like Charlotte are drawn by the camaraderie and sheer joy of just… well, running for the love of it. 'When people go on holiday, they often do the nearest Parkrun,” says Charlotte. “Nine o’clock and you’re done for the weekend. It’s a very sociable thing. It’s much more enjoyable running in a group. Parkrun becomes such a huge part of people’s lives, whether they’re there just to get fit, or aiming to improve their times.'
In January 2019, Charlotte popped down to Bute Park and, more by accident than design, set a women’s world Parkrun record of 15:50. 'I didn’t know there was a world record!' she says. 'I just went down for training. It’s always fun, and it’s a good way to see where I’m at, training-wise. I didn’t realise I’d broken the world record until the results came in later that afternoon. I’ll have to go back and try and take another chunk off.' In February 2020 she shaved a further second off the record.
If you’re on holiday in Wales, another good tip is to get in touch with the local running club. The Welsh Athletics website has a handy searchable list. They’re usually happy to offer advice, and even invite visitors along to a club run, says Heulwen James of Emlyn Running Club in West Wales.
'We often get emails from tourists and business people staying in local hotels asking us to recommend routes while they’re on holiday, and some come to our club night,' says Heulwen. 'Our club is happy to welcome tourists, and we post routes on our website. Runners are one big happy family around here.'
As a case in point, here are a few personal recommendations from clubs around Wales. With their help, and a bit of training, you could yet be challenging Charlotte for that world record…
Eryri (Snowdonia), North Wales
Jon Evans, North Wales Road Runners Club
'There’s such a plethora of places to run around North Wales. Our club is based at Llandudno, so we make the most of the coastal stretch between Rhos-on-Sea and Deganwy, which goes right round Great Orme – or up and over. The Parkrun movement has done so much for interest in running. Ours starts at RSPB Conwy reserve and has great views of Conwy Castle and the estuary. I live in just south of Betws y Coed, which opens up all kinds of possibilities in the mountains. We often do club runs up and down Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), or round the lakes: up through the forest to Llyn Elsi, or around Llyn Gwynant or Llyn Crafnant. If you like trail running, then Coed y Brenin is superb'.
Llangollen, North Wales
Owen Lovelock, Run Free Fell Runners
'Llangollen has an abundance of trails to explore North Wales’ Gateway to Adventure. For a run steeped in history and beautiful scenery, start at Centenary Square. Cross Llangollen Bridge, one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Wales’, and run along the world heritage canal - make sure to dodge the working horses still in action today towing barges. After 3km you will pass the world’s oldest Chain Bridge and reach Thomas Telford’s majestic Horseshoe Falls before the short climb to Velvet Hill. Following the undulating trail around the base of the hill, the 13th century ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey come into view. As the route crosses the road to carry on down a farm track you could almost miss the Bronze Age burial mound crowned by the 9th century Pillar of Eliseg. Then a long gradual climb behind the abbey sends you back towards Llangollen and an optional steep climb to Castell Dinas Bran offering unrivalled views of the town and SSSI rock formations of the Panorama. A zig-zag, short sharp descent back to town for a rewarding ice cream awaits'!
Newcastle Emlyn, West Wales
Heulwen James, Rhedwyr Emlyn Running Club.
'Newcastle Emlyn sits prettily on the River Teifi on the border between Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. This hilly 10k takes in the best of the landscape: a mix of road, lanes and track, incorporating the ruins of a native Welsh castle, local legends, the beauty of the River Teifi, Cenarth Falls and a stunning bluebell-carpeted wood.
It starts at the castle entrance taking in a loop of its natural defences, and the River Teifi where, according to local legend, the last dragon in Wales, ‘Y Wiber’, was sighted and slaughtered. Recent sightings here however are of the resident otters. The route goes through the town and climbs steeply, but you’re rewarded with a long downhill to Cenarth. Take time to savour the Falls before following the riverside path, then through fields into the woods. At the right time of year, your senses will be assaulted by the sight and smell of the blue bells and wild garlic. The route continues past an old mill and chapel, through the pretty hamlet of Pont Ceri and back to the town. Proceed directly through the castle gates to stretch at the Dragon’s Egg sculpture and take in the stunning view down the Teifi Valley'.
Cardigan, West Wales
Russell Williams, Cardigan Running Club.
'Straddling the River Teifi estuary, Cardigan is the centre of the West Wales farming and fishing community. If you’re visiting the area, there’s plenty of variety for running – the beach, coastal path, villages and hills. Our social club run happens every Wednesday night, which anyone’s welcome to join. The routes vary: we tend to wing it depending on the weather, who’s turned up, and what they fancy doing.
There are coastal runs out to Gwbert, or maybe we’ll head upstream to the Welsh Wildlife Centre at Cilgerran, or up steep climbs into the hills. During the summer holidays we organise a 5k series on Poppit Sands, which is open to adults and kids. My favourite run? If I had to pick one, it’d be from Cardigan through the lanes up to Ferwig. There’s a 1.5 mile (2.4km) descent down the hill behind the Cliff Hotel which has panoramic views over Cardigan Island, the beach and the estuary. If you catch it as the sun’s setting over Cardigan Bay, it’s perfect'.
Penllergare Valley Woods, West Wales
Mike Prasad, 3M Gorseinon Road Runners.
'Within two minutes of junction 47 of the M4 near Swansea, this picturesque spot has over seven miles (11km) of path and trails in 12 square miles (31sq km) of woodland which makes for a beautiful running experience. You can discover an enchanting waterfall, the sound of birds and exotic plants. The area has been extensively renovated over the past few years and is shortly entering its next phase of restoration. It is also used for a local 10k race and for those starting out on their running journey, it is the home of a couch-to-5k group. Discover the trails at Penllergare Valley Woods on the Visit Swansea Bay website'.